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Monthly Archives: March 2009

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Why Eco-Catastrophe Movies Keep Failing at the Box Office

The Day the Earth Stood Still is just the latest eco-catastrophe movie to flunk the box office, down in the bottom 5 in only its second week of release, following a trail of expensive big budget eco-catastrophe movies such as The Happening and Evan Almighty, the latter holding down a budget of 150 million dollars. The Day After Tomorrow is the closest thing to a success in this genre in recent years and its domestic take was only marginally higher than its budget. Eco-catastrophe movies are typically defined by big budget special effects and a focus on lecturing audiences about the dangers of global warming and general failure to take care of the environment.

So why are Eco-Catastrophe movies such audience repellents? For one thing they’re political. Political movies can do well with a controlled budget, but spending a 100 million+ to make a movie that automatically alienates half the potential audience is bad business. And then there’s the whole concept. People going to see a big budget movie want action and explosions, not lectures, and since there is no real villain, except the occasional evil rich white guy who somehow causes the whole thing, the interest level is naturally going to be low.

The Happening typifies the problem with grass killing people. Now if the grass had shot out of the ground and pierced people, that might have at least been entertaining. But we didn’t even get that. Movies about nuclear war barely worked, but at least the threat was undeniable and it could happen at any time. The environment can’t collapse at any time, and making a big budget movie about a long term problem is a no win situation. You either have to dumb it down ridiculously, the way The Day After Tomorrow did, or try to honestly depict the problem, which is going to bore the hell out of viewers. And either way you lose.

Installing GTA IV The Hardest Mission Ever

As I began installing GTA IV for PC it was hard to tell if I was installing a new game or a new operating system. Naively I thought I had bought and was installing a game, instead of a software suite, but this is how Redmond and Rockstar are playing it. Buy the game, which is already huge, and get a ton of bloatware as a bonus. Between installing Rockstar Social Club, installing the whole Games for Windows infrastructure, both of which expect you to create accounts with them, and their various updates, installing GTA IV for PC was a lot more like installing Microsoft Office than installing a game.

The Microsoft vision, which Rockstar seems to share, is that the way to keep PC gaming competitive, is to make it more like XBox with a whole lot of social networking. The thing is many people actually buy a game in order to play the game, and don’t want to be constantly badgered to sign into another service, even during the game itself. By the time the agonizing neverending installation was done, there were more installations to do. And by the time they were done, there were still more prompts. And when the game crashed 5 minutes later after I had driven by Coney Island and was on my way somewhere in the game world equivalent of Park Slope, and the game bluescreened on me, the first thing I saw on restart was a prompt to sign in to Rockstar Social Club. It’s almost like instead of installing a game, I joined a cult.

(By the way I haven’t seen a blue screen crash in like forever on Windows XP. So thanks Rockstar.)

And the presents just keep on coming, since some people are experiencing a bug in Rockstar Social Club which uses up processing capacity. I quickly unchecked Run When Windows Starts on the Rockstar tray icon, but plenty of players won’t know to do that. And why in the world would you add a program that runs all the time to a game you only play some of the time? I thought that kind of insanity went out even in the EA ranks in the late 90’s. Besides GTA VI, Rockstar doesn’t exactly have that many games people are busy playing. I don’t think that many PC players have Bully installed, which leaves an entire infrastructure dedicated to nothing but GTA IV that runs non-stop unless you disable it.

In the meantime, as is becoming common these days on the PC, the user community is stepping in to help. Again, thanks Rockstar. I can really see the extra time to make that PC port paid off.

Liveblogging Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion

Liveblogging things is very popular (obnoxious) now and more and more reporters are jumping on board by liveblogging everything from movies to funerals to movie funerals. This interesting (annoying) trend has caused the attention of editors (clueless nitwits) and publishers (desperate clueless nitwits) eager to provide a new form of content (desperate to keep the kids from going somewhere else) for the reading public (old people).

That’s why we’ve decided to do you a service (disservice) by liveblogging Oblivion.

Just began playing… oh man Patrick Stewart got really fat 12:29 PM March 11, 2008 from web

Okay so the Emperor is running for his life, naturally he wants to stay and chat with a condemned prisoner 12:33 PM March 11, 2008 from web

Giant rats, why is it always giant rats? Why can’t it be giant hamsters or giant hedgehogs. Giant hedgehogs would be so much scarier. 12:43 PM March 11, 2008 from web

Another stupid quest. Great. Does anyone in Cyrodil even have jobs or just quests? 12:42 PM March 11, 2008 from web

A side effect of the Daedra invasion is that everyone got fat making their faces look like dough. I thought it was just Patrick Stewart. Let’s call it a plague, or just download the Natural Faces mod. 12:53 PM March 11, 2008 from web

Okay so now the Emperor’s bastard monk son will lead the Empire even though his only experience is being a monk. I’m not seeing a good outcome here. 12:55 PM March 11, 2008 from web

Stop telling me how good I am with a blade. I never even promised to call you. 1:05 AM March 11, 2008 from web

Would it really be wrong if I just hijacked one of these ships to Morrowind in search of a better game? 1:12 AM March 11, 2008 from web

Yes I know I’m good with a blade. Here’s a demonstration. Yes I will resist arrest. 1:18 AM March 11, 2008 from web

Okay so I’m a wanted fugitive and a vampire but on the up side I get to kill everyone who says something stupid to me, which in this game is everyone. Radiant AI, take this! 1:23 AM March 11, 2008 from web

That’s right, the Emperor is dead. And you’re next! 1:35 AM March 11, 2008 from web

So when is GTA IV coming out for PC anyway? 1:41 AM March 11, 2008 from web

Are the AP’s Days Numbered?

The Star Ledger putting out an issue minus the AP might be getting more press, no pun intended, than it deserves, but it does raise a pressing issue (pun intended this time) about the future of print media. The Star Ledger, which has made some dramatic cuts lately in a bid to stay profitable, cutting back on wire services makes sense because after all few Star Ledger readers, particularly under 40 are reading the paper for global or national coverage anyway.

The internet has dramatically changed the business model for print media and the outlets most likely to survive are either national name brand papers such as the New York Times which will have to cut and trim and sell a lot (NY1 has already been sold and their white elephant of a skyscraper may be next in a downward real estate market) while surviving on prestige and solid website offerings that can compete with non print media websites, and local papers that can survive by focusing on the local instead of trying to be an all around paper by providing national and world coverage its customers will get online anyway.

As the internet penetrates more and more homes, wire services such as the AP will find themselves out of place in the print media marketplace. National brand name papers such as the New York Times don’t need to rely on them with a wide base of correspondents all across the country and local papers are surviving by going more local, providing more community and less national and global courage. Reuters has been smart about its online strategy, the AP less so. UPI has been out of the game for a while. Wire services will still have a place online but in a tougher marketplace selling their services may not be as easy anymore (pun not intended, and so we come full circle).

3D the Future of Movies?

It isn’t just network television that’s been hard hit by the internet. Movie grosses may be big, but they’re not growing at the rate they should. In public some studio execs might blame Bit Torrent, but closer to the truth is the simple reality that people have only so much fun time to go around, and with remake fever in full blast, Hollywood isn’t exactly delivering the best and brightest. There are two possible solutions, work on making the next generation of original movies by original talent that will blow viewer’s minds and make them fall in love with the big screen. Make the next Godfather, the next Star Wars or the next E.T. Or just keep optioning every book and comic book in sight, while remaking every classic film anyone has ever heard. Even movies from the 80’s and soon the 90’s. But here’s the kicker, make them all in 3D. It’s a bad plan naturally. 3D didn’t work out that well the first time around. It’s not likely to score a home run now either. Even if 3D sticks around this time and audiences embrace it, people are not going to go see movies just because they’re in 3D. What 3D and next generation sound systems and digital screens do, is create a bigger gap between the home viewing experience, whether on a big screen TV or on Hulu, and the movie theater. Will that extra inch help cover the cost? I guess this summer we’re all set to begin finding out.

Watchmen Has No Legs

Despite the fond wishes of those who hoped Watchmen the movie would live up to its name, it didn’t. Not only that Snyder and Hayter combined the worst of two worlds with a compromised movie that passionate readers of Moore’s Watchmen couldn’t endorse, and an uncommercial movie that left casual audiences uncomfortable, confused and bored. Snyder and Hayter amped up the sex and the violence enough to earn an R rating, but without any real justification, as the most important piece of violence, the attack itself, is seen as nothing more than a piece of airborne special effects, the sort of shot you would expect from something by the producers of Independence Day. Little wonder then that Watchmen flamed out at the box office in the second week, something Hayter knew well enough was coming, forcing him to write a cringe worthy letter imploring fans to go see it a second time, coming back “just like Sally.” Women being big fans of rape metaphors, blogs like Ordinary Superhero picked up the controversy forcing Hayter to offer a caveat and an apology. Not that it mattered anymore. Snyder had worked very hard for month after month to set up a perfect state of PR bliss for the movie. And then he ruined it all when people went out and saw the real thing.

Star Wars the Live Action TV Series

I’ll spare you the Star Wars Christmas Special jokes, by now I think we all know what to expect from George Lucas plus Star Wars plus TV. Anyone having any doubts at all, can go look at any given 5 minutes of a Clone Wars episode, before falling to the floor and shrieking in agony. Now the MTV movie blog reports that casting is underway for a live action Star Wars TV series tracing the rise of the Rebel alliance. With Anakin turned into Darth Vader, Amadalia dead, and all the Jedi perished, it’s hard to see how George Lucas could turn the subject into kiddie fare stocked with incredibly annoying teenage characters. Of course I have every confidence that he will rise to the challenge and do it anyway. Bets are out on how many CGI characters that sound like walking racial or ethnic stereotypes show up. Or maybe it’ll just be Truman Capote the Hutt. Either way what once would have been big news and manna to SciFi fans’ ears, now just elicits a shrug. Which tells you how low Star Wars has fallen. It’s long since become obvious to everyone that George Lucas only cares about cashing in fast, and knows the easy way to cash in is merchandising and kiddie fare. Except in the process he’s actually seriously devalued the worth of the Star Wars brand name. If he has any sense left, the Star Wars live action TV series will actually be an attempt to compensate for that, and won’t be aimed at 3 year olds. That would be right after we get a Knights of the Old Republic TV series written by the people who made the games. And then we can all fly around in a spaceship made of pizza and blueberry jam.

What Are Those Apple 10 Inch Screens Intended For?

One of the entertaining spinoffs of Apple’s paranoid culture of secrecy combined with their blitzkrieg publicity tactics, is that Apple tends to keep you guessing about their product line. The rumors of Apple ordering 10 inch screens from Wintek have naturally spawned a lot of guessing games. But the possibilities are limited. Unless Apple is preparing to unleash the world’s biggest iPhone or iPod Touch, one you pretty much have to be a hoodie wearing stereotype to even contemplate buying or using, Apple is either releasing a netbook or a Kindle clone. Either one though is an odd choice for Apple when you consider that neither Netbooks or Kindles are exactly flying off the shelves. With Apple’s aggressive pursuit of control interfaces and portability, a netbook does make a certain amount of sense. Brand it an i something, make it painfully sleek with a piano finish and charge ridiculous amounts for it while showcasing upbeat people using it, and it practically sells itself…to morons. A Kindle though is likelier if you consider that Apple would like to replicate the iTunes experiment, the App store was one attempt, but trying to one up Amazon when it comes to book libraries has to be a pretty aggressive move. Still if there’s one thing Apple can probably do, it’s make a less uglier and more functional and much more expensive Kindle. Exclusively from AT&T. With four year contract.

Dollhouse Sucks, a Case Study in Bad Concepts

It’s not that hard to make a TV show. Oh the details are hard, but in the big picture you want to nail a few things down. For one thing you want a main character audiences can identify with. Not a blank drone whose memory card gets pulled at the end of the day, leaving you to follow the storylines of the various corporate gnomes who hang around the place. Dollhouse is a poor fusion of cheesy girl power scifi dramas like Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels run through a blender that somehow distills all of Joss Whedon’s unique worldview and dialogue into mush, and leaves us with episodes in which a talentless Eliza Dusku playing herself goes on adventures such as playing hostage negotiator or teaching an American Idol wannabe how important it is to live your life. Some people are comparing Dollhouse to Dark Angel, but even at its worst, Cameron framed Dark Angel in a plausible alternative SciFi world, with a character who had her own personality and real challenges to face. Why Joss Whedon thought that people would watch a series about a drone who gets her memory card pulled at the end of the day, just so he can comment on society’s view of women, is beyond me. But Dollhouse is a case study in bad concepts, fitted with only two sympathetic characters, and a main character who can’t be identified with because she doesn’t really exist. That is not how you make a TV show.

Fallout from Roger Ebert’s Fan Bashing

Roger Ebert’s review took a swipe, or a bunch of swipes actually at fanboys, both the movie Fanboys, and actual Star Wars fanboys, touching off a backlash from fanboys, the real ones, not the movie variety. Now lately Roger Ebert has fallen into the habit of not so much reviewing the movie, as going there and rambling on loosely related topics in the review. You can’t deny the man his Grandpa Simpson phase, but both Ebert’s review and the backlash toward it are classic unintentional internet comedy. Ebert damned himself by dedicating an entire half hour to the release of The Phantom Menace, a movie now considered infamously bad. I watched with complete disbelief as Siskel and Ebert spent a half hour, minus assorted commercials though the entire special was really one long commercial for George Lucas and Phantom Menace, going gaga over the movie. Now this was all the more unjustified because while Star Wars fans may have been fooled by the hype, many critics weren’t. The New York Post, owned by FOX owner Murdoch, had to drag in its editorial page editor to praise Phantom Menace because all four staff critics on the paper gave it a bad review. Clearly they either had more integrity or better judgment than Roger Ebert. Star Wars fanboys, the real and the movie version, can be forgiven for being taken in by their own hopes. But what was Ebert’s excuse for spending half an hour shilling for a terrible movie? The only thing worse than being a fanboy, is being a hack.

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